In this current age of cell phone use and automatic video surveillance,
one would think that no unscrupulous event could ever go undetected. The
cell phone camera facility even makes it possible for almost every US
citizen to record evidence so that a police officer's testimony would
have no chance of standing up in court, especially if it didn't really
represent the truth.
The rise in the reliability of DNA testing to secure evidence in such events
as old rape cases has given convicted criminals the freedom they have
always been entitled, but failed to get because the evidence provided
at the time was deemed sufficient to convict and inflict a long prison
term on the defendant. These are a couple of examples where the defendant
has won his or her rights due to the advanced development of technology.
The use of computerization has got the city of Hollywood and the State
of Florida into a right mess this week over the use of red light cameras.
A recent appeal by Eric Arem on October 15
th took place after his conviction for running a red light under Section
316.0083, referred to at an earlier date as the Mark Wandall Traffic Safety
Program. This statute gives authorization for any local government to
make use of cameras at traffic lights as a way of enforcing violations,
particularly to do with running a red light, which is an illegal act.
Enforcing traffic violations in this way is not a problem in itself, but,
as with many local government projects, instead of the authority employing
individuals to undertake camera installation and surveillance tasks, Hollywood
City had contracted out red light packages to a private company called
"American Traffic Solutions" (ATS), which offers comprehensive
no-frills red light camera solutions packages. They typically install
cameras and use their computer linked monitors to record images which
will reveal any noticeable violators. The problem starts here and that
is it appears that it is this company that decides whether certain images
should be directed to law enforcers' departments.
The City of Hollywood has, it has been revealed, been accepting their decisions,
even though they are not trained in law enforcement. If they think that
the photos forwarded to them reveal an infringement, they then ask ATS
to print a copy and send by mail a citation to the vehicle's owner.
To add fuel to the fire, if the vehicle owner does not pay the expected
fine, the ATS's computers pick up this failure to pay and even have
the authority to send out a traffic citation, together with a traffic
infraction officer's signature which has been computer-generated.
The City of Hollywood may have thought they could delegate the role of
a law enforcement officer to a commercial company, but Eric Arem and his
attorney proved them wrong, since only a law enforcement officer and a
traffic enforcement officer have the right legally to administer traffic
violation citations and to decide who is to be prosecuted for a red light offence.
All was revealed at this court case, however, since Florida law lets cities
delegate the reviewing of information captured by a traffic violation
detector, but it doesn't give cities permission to sub contract their
own authority to anyone else to hand out any traffic citations. It was
found in this court case precisely what ATS has been doing, giving out
numerous citations using their own interpretation of the alleged offence.
The court of appeals summed up the case by stating that ATS is not a reliable
legal substitute for a TIEO (traffic infraction officer) for issuing the
citation, particularly when citations were sent to possible offenders
before any reliable feedback or interpretation from a law enforcement officer.
This case has merely highlighted that computerization may be widely accepted,
but human input is necessary to ensure that justice is done when an illegal
act has taken place. Whether or not Eric Arem and his attorney believed
there was a violation, they were prepared to argue the case on the basis
that a non law enforcement officer was putting people's reputation
on line just on the basis of what has been viewed on often-messy video
clips on rainy days, or even in the dark where events are obscured.
If you have been handed a citation for a traffic infringement on the basis
of a red light camera image, you should ensure you speak with a defense
lawyer before accepting the event as true. It's your future that's
on the line if you are convicted, and you have every right to defend yourself
against ill-defined evidence.